How to become a sumo wrestler

The picture below is from the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating developed by the Department of Health and Ageing.

I feel very privileged to live in a country where the Government cares enough for its citizens to release a helpful diagram which tells me how to eat. I also couldn’t help but feel sorry for our unfortunate grandparents and great-grandparents who must have really struggled to maintain healthy weight without a government-distributed guide on how to put together a family meal.

After successfully locating meat and fish with a magnifying glass, and taking time to appreciate that more than 75% of items on this plate are carbohydrate-rich foods, I got to thinking about sumo wrestlers. Don’t ask me how this subject popped into my head.

With the help of Gary Taubes and the bible (“Diet Delusion/GCBC” – see Resources), I managed to find an old Japanese study which looked at the typical diet of this ancient sport.

Sumo wrestlers, called rikishi, follow a gruelling schedule of daily training and a high calorie diet. The wrestling society divides its members according to their ability into the upper group (more skillful, stronger, more experienced) and the lower group (sort of reserve grade of sumo). The study looked at 96 wrestlers in total: 12 sekitori (upper group wrestlers) and 84 lower group wrestlers. They were compared to a control group made up of 89 healthy non-wrestlers of the same age.

I know you are all dying to know what they actually eat to get to their size. The main meal is called “chankonabe” (or chanko-ryori), a traditional stew made up of chicken broth, fish, pork and starchy vegetables. It is eaten with enormous portions of rice (up to 10 bowls per sitting) and chased down with a beer or five. Yum!

Here is a macronutrient breakdown for Upper and Lower groups.
Upper group:
Carbohydrates: 780g =3,120 calories = 55.9% total energy
Fat: 98g = 882 calories = 15.8% total energy
Protein: 396g = 1,584 calories = 28.4% total energy
Total calories: 5,586 calories

Lower group:
Carbohydrates: 1,003g = 4,012 calories = 78.3% total energy
Fat: 50g = 450 calories = 8.9% total energy
Protein: 165g = 660 calories = 12.9% total energy
Total calories: 5,122 calories

 
If you compare the upper and the lower groups, you will  notice that the upper group consumes more calories overall, but substitutes carbohydrates with more fat and protein. It might also interest you to know that the average body fat in the upper group was 17.9% compared to the lower group of 20.7%.
 
But let’s look at the big picture. I don’t know about you, but I am noticing really high numbers for carbohydrates. Considering that we are told that fat in your diet is more likely to end up as fat on your thighs, why don’t sumo wrestlers just base their diet on whale blubber? Rikishi seem curiously reluctant to rely on fat as their source of energy. In fact, the diet of the lower group contains only 50g, 8.9% fat. That’s the kind of number every dietician and cardiologist would approve. Nevertheless some of the rikishi were found to have high blood pressure, gout and diabetes.
 
“For anyone who is overweight, a reduction of total fat intake to 20-25% of energy should be a part of dietary management” (Dietary Guidelines for Adult Australians, 2003, NHMRC)
 
Looks like the sumo wrestlers are going above and beyond!
 
Incidentally, comparison of wrestlers and healthy controls showed no difference in total blood cholesterol, but a measurable difference in blood triglycerides. More proof that blood triglycerides are raised by dietary carbohydrates – see question 3 .
 
You might say that surely, the total calories alone would account for weight gain. Calorie in > calorie out = fat rikishi. I guess I just find it interesting that a deliberate fattening up of a young, strong and fit individual has to involve 55-78% carbohydrates.
 
Oh, now you can go back to the picture at the start of the post. And have a think about it.
 
 
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3 thoughts on “How to become a sumo wrestler

  1. Great post (although im convinced already!).

    You might like this article I just came across:
    Ancient Atherosclerosis (http://networkedblogs.com/gzmbt)
    “Egyptians ate mostly fruits and vegetables, were active, did not use tobacco and ate very little meat. The fact that they developed heart disease given their diet and lifestyle threw Dr. Thomas for a loop. Befuddled, he stated that he feels current science must be missing a risk factor.”

    You should get in contact with Dr Thomas and offer him a clue 😉

    P.S. I can’t see a contact form or anything. How many one contact you?

    Ben

    • Good read, thanks Ben. “Befuddled” pretty much sums up the attitude of most doctors who are naive enough to believe the pharmaceutical companies and refuse to think for themselves. Fred Hahn does some good work. I haven’t yet set up a primalmeded email account. Also planning a facebook page. In the meantime I’m here, since I got no social life 🙂

  2. Nice post and blog. I understand that sumo wrestlers also eat most of their calories in one sitting which is helpful in adding fat.

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